Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on August 28th, 2008 at 10:05 am
A bike-sharing program that started as an employee perk for Lousville, Kentucky-based Humana Corporation has taken the national stage this week.
Humana — a $30 billion a year, 9,000 employee health insurance company — has partnered up with Bikes Belong and a host of bike manufacturers to set up their Freewheelin’ bike-sharing system at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) that wraps up in Denver tonight.
program on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol
back in July.
(Photo: Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s office)
Freewheelin’ first popped onto the bike movement’s radar when CEO David Jones spoke about it at a speech at the National Bike Summit back in March.
As I first shared back in July, Bikes Belong and Humana brought 1,000 bikes spread across seven rental stations to help DNC attendees get to and from the week’s events. I caught up with Bikes Belong’s Executive Director Tim Blumenthal on the phone yesterday in his Denver hotel for an update.
Blumenthal says so far the program has been a smashing success. “Right now, it’s the middle of the day, and I just got a report that 875 of the 1,000 bikes are out.” He also added that the bikes have made a big impact on the streets of Denver. “The bike dynamic here,” he said, “has changed dramatically in the last three days. Not only have we put 1,000 bikes on the road, but the whole scene is different… the ‘safety in numbers’ thing is totally happening.”
According to Blumenthal, everyone is getting into the spirit. He said they’ve taken the Mayors of Minneapolis, Kentucky, and the entire Wisconson delegation out for a spin. “We’ve got groups of people riding and we’re taking them out on five-lane highways — hardly what I’d call a bike-friendly situation — but we’re just taking up the whole lane and it’s working out great.”
And of course, a smattering of Hollywood celebs have stopped by including Matthew Modine (who’s launched a rather interesting bike initiative himself) and Darryl Hannah.
One interesting tidbit I wasn’t aware of until I saw it on Cyclelicious the other day was that Bikes Belong worked with the City of Denver to install permanent sharrow markings through downtown Denver in advance of the convention. Blumenthal said they began working on them with the Mayor of Denver’s Bike Advisory Committee about seven months ago.
In a video about Freewheelin’ in Denver (watch below), Bikes Belong staffer Elizabeth Train explains that sharrows, “…just help cars knows that there will be bikes in the same lane with them and it shows that bikes can take the lane here so they’re not in the door zone. A lot of these sharrow markings were put down specifically so that people will be safe.”
Blumenthal said they were able to push the sharrows through by successfully leveraging the idea of putting 1,000 bikes on the streets of Denver. “I think we’ve seen some improvements not just with infrastructure but in attitude change as well.”
As of yesterday afternoon, Blumenthal says convention-goers have logged about 4,000 rides and 16,000 miles on the bikes (their goal was 5,000 rides and 12,500 miles).
After tonight’s big nomination speech by Barack Obama, Bikes Belong and Humana will pack up the bikes and head to St. Paul for the Republican National Convention which begins next week.
Initially, plans were to have a competition between the Democratic and Republican conventions to see who could log the most trips, but Blumenthal says they’ve scrapped that plan in an effort to be less partisan. “We’re now going for a collective, shared goal of 10,000 rides and 25,000 miles.”
On a side note, it seems like the Freewheelin’ system has matured significantly in the past year as bike-sharing has become more seriously considered by a spate of U.S. cities. Does Humana have designs on jumping into the bike-sharing business to give leaders like Clear Channel and JC Decaux a ride for their money? According to Blumenthal, “definitely, yes.”
“Humana has seen what has happened in Paris with Velib’ [their highly successful bike-sharing program] and they’ve had such a good experience with this,” he said, “there’s no question in my mind they’ll be involved.”
With the success of Freewheelin’ in Denver, and its backing by Humana and Bikes Belong, perhaps the City of Portland will consider Freewheelin’ as the “way to go” for our bike-sharing plans.
For more on the Freewheelin’ program at the DNC, watch the very well-produced video below (seen first on Cyclelicious):
For more on Portland’s plans for a bike-sharing system, see my coverage archives.